Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque will find out his fate this summer , with his sentencing on a criminal charge of stealing federal funds now pushed back to July.


Stephen LaRoque

LaRoque, a Kinston Republican and former co-chair of the powerful House Rules committee, plead guilty in January in front of Senior U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard to a charge of stealing $150,000 from federally-funded economic development groups he ran.

The other 11 charges he faced were dismissed as a condition of his plea agreement. He also agreed to repay $300,000 that prosecutors contend he stole from the non-profit he founded, East Carolina Development Company.

He was supposed to be sentenced on May 12, but the sentencing has been pushed back to the week of July 7. In motions filed in court, his attorney said LaRoque needed more time to provide financial information to the federal probation officials writing up the pre-sentencing report that Howard will use to decide LaRoque’s sentence.

LaRoque faces up to 10 years in a federal prison, as well as a fine of $250,000, on top of $300,000 he agreed to pay in restitution as a condition of his plea agreement. Read More

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center, Raising the Bar 2015

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in “Raising the Bar” — a new series of essays and blog posts authored by North Carolina nonprofit leaders highlighting ways in which North Carolina public investments are falling short and where and how they can be improved.  

The past few years have brought a major shift in how the state of North Carolina approaches economic development. Legislation passed in 2014 eliminated the state’s seven economic development partnerships, and replaced them with eight Partnership for Prosperity Zones. These zones were placed under the umbrella of a new public-private partnership to manage North Carolina’s economic development efforts.

The establishment of the public-private partnership signaled a new direction for economic development in North Carolina, one that is focused more on the attraction and retention of high-growth, innovation-focused, large employers and not as much on the businesses on Main Street.

This new direction was reinforced in the state budget. The Fiscal Year 2014 budget enacted major funding cuts to nonprofit community economic development organizations, organizations which play a critical role in ensuring that jobs and investment reach our most under-served and distressed communities. This is particularly true as the state’s economic development structure focuses more on business attraction and retention, and less on local economic development. The Support Center was included in these budget cuts, along with the Institute for Minority Economic Development, the Association of Community Development Corporations, the Indian Economic Development Initiative, the Community Development Initiative, and others.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s 2015-2017 biennium budget continues down this path. The Governor’s job creation proposals speak much about entrepreneurship and investing in innovation. He proposes $15 million annually for the Venture Multiplier Fund, to increase investment in early-stage companies, and $2.5 million annually for the Rallying Investors and Skilled Entrepreneurs program, which would recruit investors and entrepreneurs to the state. A $5 million appropriation for the One North Carolina Small Business Program would also invest in high-growth, high-tech small businesses.

All of these programs, though they are geared toward entrepreneurs and small businesses, do not address the capital or training needs of “Main Street” businesses—the local small businesses that are the backbone of economies in communities across the state. Read More


North Carolina’s newly privatized economic development group may create a business advisory board with seats designated as rewards for private funders, board members said during a meeting Friday.

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina gets most of its funding from state taxpayers, but members of an advisory board could draw its membership from its private funders, said Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat and a member of the public-private partnership.

Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat CEO. Source: Red Hat

Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat CEO. Source: Red Hat

At Friday’s meeting, Whitehurst said the structure of the business advisory board wasn’t finalized, but he envisioned 20 members from a variety of industries and areas of the state. He said the advisory board would be designed in conjunction with the group’s fundraising plan.

Several seats on the advisory council may go to those who donate to the private arm of the partnership, Whitehurst said, in response to a reporter’s questions after the open portion of Friday’s meeting.

“There may be a few seats for people that are large contributors,” Whitehurst said.

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina opened last October, when the state’s business recruitment, tourism and marketing functions were moved out of the state Commerce Department to the newly formed private non-profit.

Lawmakers, when they authorized the move, held the group subject to open meeting and public records laws, and members of the partnership’s board also must adhere to the state ethics law.

The general public is the biggest backer of the partnership, with more than $16 million in public dollars funding the venture.

Read More


Following sharp questioning of Commerce Secretary Skvarla in a Senate Finance Committee hearing Tuesday, it was readily apparent that the Senate would take a different tack on economic development than the House, which passed its own much-criticized package last month. In a surprise press conference yesterday afternoon announcing their own “jobs package” , however, Senate leaders made it abundantly clear that “different” didn’t mean “better” when it comes to growing an economy that benefits everyone in the state. While the bill does take a few positive steps forward on improving our state’s incentive programs, on balance, the bad outweighs the good and does not represent the most effective approach to economic development.

Most importantly, the proposal doubles down on tax cuts and company-specific tax incentives, instead of policies that benefit companies by adding economic value to communities. We’ve known for decades that North Carolina’s competitive edge in the global economy rests on providing companies with the skilled workforce and infrastructure they need boost to their productivity and ensure long-term profitability.

Unfortunately, the proposed changes to the Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) program ignore these time-tested strategies for robust economic development in favor of budget-busting tax cuts and corporate incentives that have proved more expensive and less effective than advertised. In fact, 60 percent of JDIG projects have failed to live up to their promises of job creation or investment since the program began in 2002, and JDIG is out of money because the state spent more than half the available funds on a single project in Charlotte.

At a time when North Carolina needs to create at least 400,000 new jobs just to meet the needs of growing population, now is not the time to double down on ineffective economic development.

Read More


In case you missed it earlier this week, Raleigh’s News & Observer is featuring Chris Fitzsimon’s excellent column from earlier in the week under the headline “In NC, a Republican lawmaker finds room to rethink.”

In it, Chris highlights the recent comments of conservative GOP state representative Bob Setinburg who, amazingly enough, stood up in public recently and admitted that the facts he had learned while governing in Raleigh had forced him to rethink one of his hardline, ideology-based positions — this one on business incentives. Let’s hope it’s just the start. As Chris writes:

“Steinburg used to think that but he knows better now because he has been meeting with constituents, hearing from his community leaders and local businesses and people who are looking for jobs.

Their struggles are more important to him than an economic treatise by a right-wing scholar on the shelf of a Raleigh think tank. And they ought to be.  That’s why Steinburg and his colleagues in the House and Senate are in Raleigh, to represent the people in their districts.

Think of how much better off we’d all be if Steinburg’s reasoning for rethinking his view of incentives was expanded to other issues facing the General Assembly.

Imagine if Senator Bob Rucho and his fellow lawmakers spent some time with folks who are still looking for a job and who have lost their unemployment insurance that used to help keep their lights on and gas in their car. Read More